How to reset your body clock and improve your sleep pattern
Did you know that your body clock plays one of the most important roles in your sleep? Its main task is to manage our sleep-wake cycles, and it does a pretty good job at giving us those reminders that say, “Hey human, your busy schedule is messing with my sleep flow!”
So what happens when you ignore your body clock, and how can you get it back in sync? Let’s explore what makes your body clock tick and how to press that sleep reset button to get it back on track.
What is your body clock?
The body clock is located in a part of the brain’s hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), where its core role is to receive light information from the circadian rhythm. Using natural light (and darkness), our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep-wake hormones and controls the sleep signals that help us know when it’s time for lights off.
If your sleep schedule is out of sync with your body clock, you’ll start to notice how your sleep quality begins to deteriorate. If you fall into an erratic sleep-when-I-can-get-it habit, you could (over time) start to develop chronic health problems, like sleep disorders, weight issues, mental health problems like depression, and winter blues syndrome, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Ways to reset your body clock
If you’ve fallen into a sleepless trap of misaligned sleep schedules and you’re starting to feel the effects that poor sleep can have on your mental and physical health, then it’s time to reset that body clock. Let’s begin:
- Get to bed at a reasonable hour. If you want to get to sleep earlier, the key is to adjust your sleep time by 15 minutes a day until your sleep schedule is in tune with your body clock.
- Sorry nappers, this is a nap-free zone. Even though napping has benefits, an afternoon snooze can interfere with your sleep later on. Instead of a nap, get those endorphins pumping with exercise to chase away the sleepiness.
- Get outdoors. Spending consistent time in natural light can help recalibrate your circadian rhythm and reset your natural body clock.
- Fight the urge to sleep in. Your body clock needs instructions, like when to get up, and when to sleep. It expects consistency to operate optimally. Even a slight diversion (like a weekend lie-in) can throw it off.
- Be predictable with your sleep schedule. Once you’ve nailed a good sleep routine, don’t mess with it. It takes time to build habits, and this is the healthiest of them all.
- Dim the lights on electronics. Reduce all household light exposure before bed to give your circadian rhythm time to sync back into normality. Avoid lights from cell phones, laptops, and TV screens.
- No snacking or high-intensity workouts before bed. Exercise can wake you up, and food can give you heartburn, (which keeps you up too). Limiting anything that’s going to stimulate your internal and external functioning before bed can help you sleep more soundly to re-sync that rhythm.
- Get your relaxation game face on. Run a bath and play some relaxing music or listen to some guided sleep meditations. It’s all about sending those sleep signals.
- If all else fails, chat to your doctor. Supplements might help to induce sleep, but be aware that these are not a cure. Be sure to chat with your doctor first to get you the correct help you need.
There is no “quick-fix” when it comes to restoring your sleep schedule naturally. How long it takes to change or reset your body clock is all dependent on what made it slip off the rails in the first place, whether that was one too many all-nighters, shift work or traveling across time zones. If it’s travel, the general rule to reset your body clock is “one day per time zone,” but this too can be affected by lifestyle habits, diet and stress.
Our advice? Keep up a sleep hygiene routine to maintain healthy sleep and listen to your body wherever possible. (Because, like it or not, it knows what it’s talking about.)